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Guatemala: The Sailfish Capital of the World

A unique swirling of ocean currents between Mexico and El Salvador creates an eddy unusually rich in pelagic fish (such as herring and mackerel) right on Guatemala’s doorstep, where billfish, including sailfish and marlin, gather to feed along with large concentrations of dorado, yellowfin tuna, and wahoo. The result is some of the world’s best sailfishing waters.

A sailfish on Guatemala's Pacific Coast. Photo © Al Argueta.
A sailfish on Guatemala’s Pacific Coast. Photo © Al Argueta.

Enthusiasts of Guatemala’s emerging sailfishing scene are quick to point out that it is the true “Sailfish Capital of the World” and have the numbers to back up their claims. The world records for conventional and fly-fishing single-day catches have been set here, at 75 and 23 respectively. In March 2006, a single vessel carrying five anglers caught and released a whopping 124 sailfish. While the records are indeed impressive, anglers plying the Guatemalan Pacific Coast need not worry about any “feast or famine” phenomenon, as catch-and-release numbers are quite consistent. In terms of billfish releases per angler, Guatemala ranks at the top (a statistic compiled by The Southwest Fisheries Science Center in California). Its catch per unit of effort (CPUE) for Pacific sailfish in 2005 was 5.83 compared to Costa Rica’s 2.57 and Panama’s 2.25. On average, you can expect to catch 15-20 fish per boat per day, but catches of 25 fish aren’t uncommon.

Guatemala’s strength is certainly in its numbers. Unlike most of its competitors, Guatemala’s not known as a beach destination with impressive resort accommodations. All that is starting to change, however, and there are now some very comfortable accommodations where you can stay right on the beach and relax after a long day at sea. Some outfitters accommodate anglers in their own lodges; otherwise there are private luxury villas on the beach or the large Soleil Pacífico resort. Many outfits combine fishing packages with a round of golf on one of Guatemala City’s excellent golf courses. All of the outfitters listed practice catch-and-release and use circle hooks, as mandated by Guatemalan law.

Fishing is active year-round, but most anglers come between November and May seeking a respite from colder climates. Prices for fishing packages vary by the size of the boat used and can be fairly expensive in Guatemala; boats generally travel 40-80 kilometers (25-50 miles) offshore to a deep, 600-meter (2,000-foot) basin where sailfish tend to congregate around its rim, translating into higher fuel costs. Boats heading out this way are usually in the 28-foot range, but there are also a few 42- and 43-foot boats. Expect to pay about $2,100 per person for two people on a two-day and three-night fishing package on a 28-foot boat. Most packages include food and drink, accommodations, boat and captain, gear, and transfers to and from the Guatemala City airport. Anglers often spend their last night in Antigua or Guatemala City.

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